Identity Hierarchies

A few questions posed in Katrina Rosen’s Transgender Theory and Embodiment: The Risk of Racial Marginalization are “How might queer be theorized to better take into account Don’s perspective of putting culture first and gender/sexuality second?” and “Must there be such a prioritizing for issues of racism, homophobia, and transphobia to be effectively combated?” These questions are really striking to me in that they deal with making a sort of hierarchy of self-identification. While these questions are very specific to trans* theory, they could easily be expanded to a greater understanding of intersectional identities in a more generalized sense.

A 45-year-old Samoan fa’afafine named Don is one of the examples that Rosen uses in her essay. It is Don that causes Rosen to ask the questions previously stated. This is because he wants people to view him as Samoan before they view him as anything else, including fa’afafine. His prioritization of his identity in such a manner is interesting because people often ignore issues of race or ethnicity when talking about sexuality, making the assumption that one’s sexuality is of greater personal importance and effectively ranking another person’s identity without knowing much about them at all. This could work in the opposition as well, where one would assume that race informs a person’s identity more than their sexuality when the person in question feels the opposite. However, it’s more interesting to think of how sexuality overshadows race because race is a more easily identifiable trait visually than sexuality.

Don believes that “cultural identity precedes gender/sexuality identity in political importance,” but it also important to note that he acknowledges that the two are linked and inform one another in relation to his identity (Roen 660). Rosen notes that Don’s reclaiming of fa’afaine as an identity that does not need to be medicalized is similar to “queer and transgendered critiques of psycho-medical discourses on transsexuality.”

This video is titled “What is a Fa’afafine” and in this video a fa’fafine named Phylesha discusses how they interpret their identity in relation to how other view them. Phylesha says, “I don’t identify as a man. I don’t identify as a woman. I identify as who I am, who I know to be and that is a human being.” When asked if there is a space between a man and a woman, Phylesha says, “That’s up for you to decide.” It is that line that really spoke to me and that I think really relates back to Don’s prioritization of his identity. Don has actively formed a hierarchy of identity, where he is Samoan and then fa’afine. Phylesha has formed a hierarchy as well, where they are first and for most a human being and a fa’afine second. Both are similar approaches to taking control of one’s self-identification, but how they would interact with the world on a social and political level would be very different.

 

– Kris Krumb

In a constant state of transition

Reading the personal accounts of Green and Califa in addition to Serano’s definition of trans-misogyny allows us to consider a wide variety of trans* experience and embodiment.  The narrative heard over and other of a pre-transition, debilitating lifestyle, a transitioning period (including hormones, surgical procedures, and/or the practice of gendered social habits), and, lastly, living the rest of one’s life in the seemingly “correct” body, forces onlookers to see trans* embodiment as a temporary point in life.  In this way, a person inhabits one type of body, transitions, and inhabits another body.  With this, the common expectation is drawn that trans* experience includes is the erasure of one’s “previous” being.  This not only creates a horrific reality for those unable to “pass” and fully function in society as either male or female due to economic status, bodily limitations, and surgical willingness, but also creates a nearly impossible way of life for those seeking the trans* category as a life-long process and identification.

According to Julia Serano, trans* women are particularly vulnerable to social ridicule and misogynistic behavior.  This is not something that Green and Califa discuss in their accounts to maleness, but they do point out the issue of androgyny the discomfort that genderqueer individuals bring when moving through social spaces.  That is to say, whether one seeks masculine or feminine recognition, they are forced to decide between passing fully as a male or fully as a female in order to avoid social injustices and constant misgendering.  As Green and Califa both attest, they have a unique and specialized understanding of life that comes having experienced several different forms of being.  However, in each phase of their lives, Green and Califa have been trans* beings and this allows for yet another unique position.  So why is there such a force to renounce one’s trans*ness and adopt a fully male or female mode of living?  The reality of disappearing into a world of “maleness” or “femaleness” rather than a world of trans*ness is that important issues like trans-misogyny fall away with the erasure of life previous to and during transition.

Tranarchism, a term I am sure many of you are familiar with, is a term used to describe the radical sociopolitical movement that calls for gender anarchy.  One of several sites promoting current trans* topics of controversy and, specifically, trans-feminine matters is Tranarchism.com/.  Though highly controversial due to its main contributor, Asher Bauer, the blog has become a popular resource for news, opinion, and upcoming events.  With popular posts like “Not Your Mom’s Trans 101” and “Anarchy 101,” with site offers unusual perspective for those seeking to learn more about the tranarchism movement and what it means to abandon one’s conflicting, yet powerful, identities.

-Elizabeth Nash

Butch or FTM?

The difficulty in navigating the boundaries between transgender and homosexuality and the related boundaries between gender and sexuality that David Valentine discusses in his book, Imagining Transgender: An Ethnography of a Category is apparent in this clip from The L Word.  If you’re not familiar with the series, it aired between 2004 and 2009 on Showtime and throughout attempts to address difficult issues regarding gender and sexuality.

Here’s the link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euoOi7CUkkY#t=7m40s

One such theme on the show involves trans issues.  It creates a good representation of the conflict both within the chief trans character, Max, previously known as a very butch lesbian Moira, and also the conflict between Max and his tight-knit lesbian community that helped Moira come out of the closet.  As Valentine discusses, the boundaries are often not clear and may intersect.  While some lesbian characters on the show help Moira to realize and act upon her instincts to dress and act more masculine, others have a slight problem with it.  Sometimes her masculinity is interpreted as gayness, and sometimes it is taken for what it is – masculinity and identification with the masculine gender – and some people don’t know how to feel about it.

In this clip, for instance, Kit and Max have a confrontation regarding his own feelings about his gender and sexuality.  She asks him why he can’t be “the butchest butch in the in the world,” and Max responds saying that he simply wouldn’t feel whole.  Kit seems to be under the impression that Max should simply be a masculine lesbian, but in reality it is much more complicated than that for him.

Max’s own struggle with his gender identification is shown throughout the series.  We see that as a self-identified trans man, Max has issues fitting in both with men and with women.  In many ways, he is both male and female, and not male nor female.  He can relate to his straight female date’s feelings like most men would not be able to, and can pass as a man, but he is often the outsider regardless.

This is reflective of what Valentine says in his essay – that sometimes homosexuals are labeled as being transgender and sometimes it goes the other way around.  Sometimes it makes sense, sometimes people contradict themselves and make absolutely no sense at all.  This is because gender and sexuality are inextricably linked, and the boundaries between the two are very blurred.  Valentine says of the term transgender, “Indeed, that ‘transgender’ can stand as both a description of individual identity and simultaneously as a general term for gendered transgressions of many kinds makes it almost infinitely elastic” (39).  Overall, navigating the boundaries between society’s expectations and one’s own identity is a personal responsibility.  Tell us who you are, even if others confuse you, whether they mean well or not.

-Chrissy Goss